Marjorie Dove Kent, Executive Director, Jews for Racial & Economic Justice (JFREJ)
Is there a circumstance under which it is illegal for a white man to kill a black kid in Florida?
It would be hard to find a more open and shut case than Michael Dunn’s murder of 17-year-old Jordan Davis. He shot an unarmed kid to death for playing rap music in a car at a volume that exceeded his own tastes and continued shooting and shooting as the car sped away. And yet, Dunn had only to claim that he saw a gun in the car – a gun that never existed – and the jury concluded that there was not enough evidence to convict him of a murder he patently committed. The way Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law is applied, white fears are more legally defensible than black lives.
In other times and other places, Jews of all races have known all too vividly the feeling of having a life deemed worthless, the certain knowledge that we could be killed with impunity, the pain of de facto criminalization in the minds of an oppressive, antisemitic majority. Our ancestry is peppered with stories of harassment and humiliation at the hands of law enforcement, of lack of access to justice, of the normalization of murder, of laws established to shield our oppressors from accountability.
Our heritage demands that we shout about injustices like this as loudly as our voices will allow. It demands that where silence reinforces presumptions of black guilt, we break that silence. It demands that we stand with the families, the friends, and the loved ones of Jordan Davis, Trayvon Martin, Renisha Mcbride, Adrian Broadway, Kimani Gray, every other murdered black youth. It demands that we struggle to repeal racist laws, that we break the legacy of institutionally sanctioned violence from slavery to lynchings to today, that we disrupt the everyday performances of racism that ensure murders like Davis’ will continue, that we affirm the life and dignity of the most maligned, the most oppressed, the most vulnerable.
We have been that people. Some of us still are. And if we are silent, if we are complacent – or worse if we defend Michael Dunn and the next one like him and the next one after that – we will incur the shame and condemnation of our ancestors. Our humanity, our citizenship, and our Jewish identity demands better of us.